I have never been so glad to see such an ugly city appear in front of me.
The ride from Cali to Pasto (just under 400 km and about seven hours) was much longer than the rides I had grown accustomed to in the tiny Central American countries, and the rain, fog and cold did not make the trip any more enjoyable.
I was wet, frozen and miserably counting down the kilometers on my GPS when I rounded the corner and was confronted by a conglomeration of grey, run-down buildings stretching as far as the eye could see. It wasn't pretty, but it was most welcome.
I found my way through the maze of one way streets to the Koala Inn, one of the only places that comes up when you search for hostels in Pasto. It was a simple doorway, leading up a set of stairs. I parked Cricket on the sidewalk while I checked in.
The Koala Inn was once a nice hostel, but now it has been allowed to become rundown. However its Chinese owners were very accomodating, and it wasn't expensive for my own room with two double beds, and there was hot water and wifi. As I unloaded Cricket a very nice guy from South Korea called Hong helped me carry everything upstairs.
I asked where I could safely park Cricket and the lady told me there was a parking lot around the corner. What she didn't tell me was that there are no parking lots open on a Sunday evening in the grim town of Pasto. This I had to learn the hard way - by riding around the maze of one way streets, banging on closed gates and asking passers by if they knew of a parqueo that was open. At one point I thought I was in luck as an old man opened a small door beside the entrance gate when I banged on it. He was willing for me to park my bike there, except he did not have the key to open the main gate and there was no way Cricket would fit through the tiny door he had opened.
If I wasn't wearing a helmet I would have pulled my hair out.
After a few more tries, feeling more than a little frustrated and very hungry, I pulled up beside a policeman walking along the road. I explained my problem and asked if I could park at the police station. He seemed open to the idea, but suggested we try around the corner first. I'd already been around EVERY corner, but I smiled and agreed. He tried the parqueo he was thinking of (which had a very misleading "open 24 hours" sign on it) and it was closed. He met me back at the corner and was just explaining how to get to the police station when the gates of the parking lot opened and a car pulled out! My saviour the policia ran across the road and negotiated with the guy inside for me to park my bike there. He then came out and stopped traffic so I could ride the wrong way up the road into the lot.
The very kind parking lot attendant Diego told me that there was no security in that lot because the next day was a holiday, but that I could park in his other lot across the road (an enclosed parkade). I gratefully agreed, he unlocked the other gate, and finally Cricket was safe and sound.
All I had eaten since breakfast was a juice on the side of the road. For a few kilometers it seemed that every house had a sign outside advertising fresh orange juice. I chose one that had a covered patio so I could get out of the rain. I ordered a juice and was confounded by the number of choices I was given. Apparently one does not just get oranges in one's juice. Honey, sugar, some kind of pellet that looked like something you would feed a cat, and some kind of liquor were all possible inclusions. In the end I just asked her to put it all in. It resulted in a rather strange, frothy, bittersweet concoction. I drank it anyway whilst teasing the young girl who kept sticking her head out of a doorway.
I ate dinner that evening with my new friend Hong and his German friend. I've found that when travelling on my own without Phil, I make new friends everywhere very quickly. Guess it's easier to talk to me when I'm not accompanied by a 6 foot 5 bearded Jesus.
The next day Hong and his friend headed off to see a lake and I did very little. It was a holiday so everything was closed and it rained all day. Pasto wasn't any nicer in the light of day than it had been the previous evening.
I was still trying to wait for Phil and Kelly to catch up, but they weren't travelling very fast. I was cold and so I decided to head to Ecuador without them, sure that they would catch up eventually.
The next morning everything was open again. As I packed my bike (once again parked on the sidewalk in front of the hostel) every member of staff in the sportswear shop next door came out for a picture with me.
It started by one guy coming over to check out the bike. I gave him a sticker. He got his friend to take a picture of him with me and Cricket. Then the friend wanted a picture too. Then they went inside, I assume to show the other six people in the shop their new cool pictures, because two minutes later I was surrounded paparazzi style by Colombians and camera phones. A whole photo shoot later, I finally was able to leave the ugliest city in the world (which happens to have some very friendly people in it).